May 13, 2006


The Right Call on Phone Records: The NSA's Program Safeguards Security -- and Civil Liberties (Richard A. Falkenrath, May 13, 2006, Washington Post)

On Thursday, USA Today reported that three U.S. telecommunications companies have been voluntarily providing the National Security Agency with anonymized domestic telephone records -- that is, records stripped of individually identifiable data, such as names and place of residence. If true, the architect of this program deserves our thanks and probably a medal. That architect was presumably Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and President Bush's nominee to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The potential value of such anonymized domestic telephone records is best understood through a hypothetical example. Suppose a telephone associated with Mohamed Atta had called a domestic telephone number A. And then suppose that A had called domestic telephone number B. And then suppose that B had called C. And then suppose that domestic telephone number C had called a telephone number associated with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The most effective way to recognize such patterns is the computerized analysis of billions of phone records. The large-scale analysis of anonymized data can pinpoint individuals -- at home or abroad -- who warrant more intrusive investigative or intelligence techniques, subject to all safeguards normally associated with those techniques.

Clearly, there is a compelling national interest in understanding and penetrating such terrorist networks. If the people associated with domestic telephone numbers A, B and C are inside the United States and had facilitated the Sept. 11 attacks, perhaps they are facilitating a terrorist plot now. The American people rightly expect their government to detect and prevent such plots.

Very few career government officials possess the expertise, initiative and creativity needed to devise a system to penetrate such networks, using only existing statutory and presidential authorities, employing only existing technical and personnel resources, and violating the privacy of no American. Yet, if the USA Today story is correct, this appears to be exactly what Hayden did.

As Pepys points out, the Left already considers the Post to be playing Der Angriff to President Bush's Hitler, so this should set their heads spinning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 13, 2006 5:48 PM

I wonder why USA Today was chosen as leaker of choice.

Mebbe cos the WP would have been sympathetic?

Posted by: Sandy P at May 13, 2006 11:50 PM

On Meet the Press this AM they played a 1957 rerun where the CIA Director described and defended a progam for intercepting overseas telephone converstions between American citizens with suspected foreign operatives.

As Steyn wrote today in RCP: How can you connect the dots if you can't see the dots?

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